tv [untitled] June 7, 2012 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT
and our colleagues in the next couple of minutes. the first question. this is really a question for both of you. and feel free to take turns answering it or whatever you're comfortable with. it's my understanding that previous mechanisms for finding voluntary sites for nuclear waste facilities have been successful in this country. one of those is in new mexico, i think it's called the waste isolation pilot plant. however, there was a different type of facility, the one we're talking about is not for high-level waste as i understand it. but i believe the new mexico facility does take mid-level defense waste and, in fact, it's my understanding that the state and the community there agreed to the facility with the understanding that it would not accept high-level waste in the future. can y'all provide any take aways from the new mexico experience
on what we can replicate in a consent based approach for a high-level repository? or any cautions on what cannot be replicated? really, what can be exported for that experiment in new mexico or experience in new mexico? and what cannot? >> thank you, senator carper. there's -- we found a number of very important lessons in examining the success of the development of the w.i.p. facility. i can list just a couple. one was that the federal government in the end was willing to negotiate legally binding agreements with the state government that clearly defined a set of regulatory authorities, but the state helped. and in essence gave state leadership hands on a steering wheel or at least ability to put their foot on a brake. and i think that was a key
element of creating confidence that the facility, that the facility could be operated safely and that they could assure its citizens that, indeed, it would be operated safely. >> so instead of my way or the highway, federal government calling the shots, you've got the state in the car? >> yep. >> one of the front seats of the car. >> that's correct. >> and with the ability to put a foot on the brake. almost like in driver's ed when i was in high school, you'd have the student driver on one side and the instructor on the other side, both with a steering wheel and the pedals and everything. so -- >> right. and i believe the next panel others are likely to comment on the value of this. it does mean that whatever new entity is created by amendment to the policy act that it will be very important that it have the authority to negotiate and enter into these sorts of agreements on behalf of the
federal government. another key thing that was done was that the federal government funded an independent scientific and technical evaluation group called the environmental evaluation group in new mexico. i think the state government made a tremendous decision by locating that scientific review panel within their university system so that it was given in essence the type of independence that one associates with an academic institution. and therefore had tremendous credibility. it also didn't hurt to have two very capability national laboratories in the same state, as well. but to have -- to have independent source of scientific advice separate from the federal government i think was another key ingredient. another key element was that this repository was cited and developed and licensed to a safety standard that was established in advance of the
siting of the repository not during or after the selection of the repository. and this relates to the commission's recommendation that a new site independent safety standard be developed by e.p.a. and the nrc. i think a final element that was critical in my judgment was the fact that this program had assured funding in the sense that the senator -- senior senator from the state of new mexico served on both the appropriating and authorizing committees. and that gave some assurance that adequate funding would be available to operate the facility safely after it had been built. we can't really rely on that good luck happening again because the statistical probability as you might guess is rather low. so this is a key reason why the commission has recommended that
we need to change at a minimum the way that we classify the fee receipts in such a way that when they're appropriated, they don't have to compete against other discretionary spending priorities. and spending those moneys looks more how we fund a nuclear regulatory commission where the fees offset appropriations and congress is not faced with the dilemma of needing to cut other programs in order to fund something that's being paid for by fees. this is really critical because i think that the community really wants to have confidence that the facility will receihav funding. in other words, there was a lack of continuity of leadership.
and them knowing that person is not likely to be around say within 18 months also would be a serious problem. so this is another reason why we think some type of new organization does need to be created to take on these responsibilities so you can have the continuity of leadership that gives confidence. the federal government will ultimately live up to its obligations. >> thank you very much. let me yield to senator udall, a junior senator for now, but not for long. soon to be the senior senator from new mexico. >> yeah. >> i say that sadly because we love jeff binghamton. >> we sure do. we sure do. and senator carper, we're going to miss him very much and miss that ability as professor
peterson has pointed out how he was serving on several committees that were really key. >> we also know, we also know that the interest of new mexico will be in very good hands. >> well, you're very kind. >> we're going to work hard on that. >> and let me say to dr. peterson, i think you pulled out some of the very good lessons on the waste isolation pilot project. and i wanted to explore a little bit more, though, with both of you and here in terms of questioning. should a state as a whole have the right to accept or reject a nuclear waste site in its borders? and how should that authority work? >> that's a very hard question for us to answer. >> that's why i ask. you were given a lot of time to
think about that. >> well, we looked a lot at the differences between new mexico and w.i.p. and yucca mountain. and i think you put your finger on the principal difference. and in new mexico, there's a general acquiescence that this is good for the state, good for the country. so that is completely lacking in nevada. where the local communities are by and large very supportive, the state communities are very imposed. and i think that has described a number of the detail. but w.i.p. is what gives me the optimistic confidence that we can move ahead.
because i think the attitude that we found down there, that i found down there, and i'm not an expert like dr. peterson is, was immensely reassuring that this consent adaptive approach if really taken seriously by both sides can work. >> now, general, you still didn't answer this. you know the question was very pointed here. should a state as a whole have the right to accept or reject a nuclear waste site in its borders? and how should that authority work? yet you're comparing nevada and new mexico as you know and i think the history you're talking about what happened in nevada was the high-level nuclear waste policy act, which had a very scientific process and broad selection of sites was shortened by congress and congress basically said it's going to
nevada and forced it down nevada's throat. i think at the time, the governor and local officials, i mean, there was a lot of objection. in new mexico, it was different. the governor and local officials and the -- i believe the leadership in the congress all had a very accepting attitude. and so they came together and talked about what should this agreement be? and as one of the parts of the agreement as i mentioned in my opening statement was the idea that no high-level waste was going to come to new mexico. that this was going to be a waste site. and so that's why i ask this question to you. it's one i know -- i think you've tried to finesse in your report and i'm trying to get to the real heart here of what, you know, should a state as a whole have the right to accept or reject a nuclear waste site? and how should that authority
work? you know, i realize it's a tough question. but that's why we hired you to do this. >> well, i guess -- and i'm thinking now more as an individual because we didn't resolve that in detail. i'll be honest. >> but please, your best -- you've sat through all of this, you've seen the experiences, tell us what you think. >> i think to be successful, we need to have state, local communities together. if they're not together, it's not going to work. >> yeah. yeah. >> so i think part of if whole consent process is working with the communities as a whole. state, local, tribal, whatever they are to make it work. >> yes, dr. peterson, your thoughts on that question? >> i think that in our report, we essentially recognize that this is the major issue.
and so the final report does address it more specifically in the sense that it points out that in the end the ability to opt out in what the conditions would be and whether it should -- how long should it be unconditional is best left to be a matter of negotiation between the federal government and the state. because, for example, if you're going to enter into a mortgage to purchase a house, there's a -- there's points in time where you make decisions and such, but in this case, by having that be one of the most important but key elements of negotiation, you can preserve an unconditional opt out and then, of course, if any safety issues arise associated with the site, there should be an immediate ability to put a brake on to the whole thing until things are fixed. but this is something that in
the approach probably needs to be worked out between the state and federal government. >> and i think -- i think senator carper, he's pointed out an issue here that is very important when we look at final legislation. and many of the issues that arise along the way, what happened in the waste isolation pilot project was local people and state people were very worried about the safety issues. and they were worried about highways, emergency preparedness, and many dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars were put towards that to alleviate the fears, to improve the roads, to get emergency preparedness in place. number one, and then the issues that you've both talked about were -- came together around should we have the site? how we should have it, and the
state was very worried about the science. the state was saying, well, you know, we know that big federal government has a lot of science. we know about the national laboratories. but as a state, we want to have some oversight. and so as part of the negotiation as you both pointed out and put in your report, the environmental evaluation group was created, these were independent scientists and they walked every step with the federal scientists along the way, challenged them at times. and i think dr. horrel will talk about this when he hits the testimony. so there were some important lessons i think were learned. i've gone on way too long and i really only asked one question and you see how hard it is to get to the bottom of that crucial question. and i hope senator alexander will focus in on this too. he wants to protect tennessee, i
know -- of getting a nuclear site. >> it may have only been one question, but it was a pretty good one. >> thank you. >> senator alexander, let me say something. kind of thinking out loud here about the role that the senator played in this as an authorizer and appropriator. and i think pete who was a former colleague for many years may have seen, in fact, use the words of albert einstein in adversity lies opportunity, but also the potential for real economic opportunity for the people of new mexico if they figured out and played their cards right. and i think arguably they've done that pretty well. senator alexander? >> thanks, mr. chairman. as i said in my opening remarks, whether you're for yucca mountain or against yucca mountain, that's the point of the commission report, right? you said 25 years is long enough just to be sitting there and we
need to get on with it. and if i'm not correct, you said even if that as far as the repository needed -- even if yucca mountain were open, we'd need a second repository, right? so we have that work to do. and you didn't define what you meant by consent based, was that deliberate? you didn't say they have to pass a law and -- >> no, we didn't because we said consent based, but also adaptive. it depends on the circumstances. it may be different in different areas. >> and did you envision there would be incentives to local governments? to induce incentives? >> yes, we did. and i think per's talked about some of those, a research laboratory. all kinds of things that can make such a facility attractive
to the community. >> basically whatever it took so people would want to compete for this, is that correct? >> part of the consent basis. >> yeah, and in my experience, i don't want to pre-judge this. this may not be a part of senator binghamton's bill, but for a long-term repository, i would think that the federal government would want the governor and the state legislator passing a law approving it. and if i were the governor, i would want the congress to pass a law approving it. because i wouldn't want the next governor or president to undo it. what we mean by consent-based will work itself out because communities who compete for the research laboratory or whatever this opportunity turns out to be, will try to put together the most attractive package they can. and then from the -- whoever the federal administrator is will look at it and say new mexico has, a, a history, b, their city council said yes or tennessee
said yes and that would be part of an attractive proposal to the federal government, would it not? to know you have that kind of backing in law rather than just some statement by a governor who might not be there next year. >> oh, absolutely. and that's essential. and in our federal system, it's much more complicated than it is in other countries where we've looked like sweden, finland, and so on where they don't have a federal system. they've actually had communities bidding against each other. >> well, i would hope that would happen here. >> it's more complicated here because of the nature of our structure. >> yes, but still, i think senator carper and i've mentioned this myself. i had the same experience with prisons, we couldn't locate one and i announced that, you know, we only had one and we'd have a competition, pretty soon we had three proposals. so we can -- we can make it attractive and should. and i -- i think your consent-based recommendation just clears the air. it doesn't resolve yucca
mountain for now. but, again, whether or not one is for yucca mountain as i am or whether one is against it as senator really matter in terms of whether we need a second repository or a consolidated site. let me ask about these consolidated sites. the nuclear waste policy act allows consolidated storage only after a permanent repository has been licensed. now in the legislation that senator feinstein and i have in the appropriations committee, we separate these consolidated sites. these oar are -- we don't call them interim sites because there might always be something there on its way to a permanent site. but can you discuss why you and your recommendations separated the consolidation site from the search for the permanent repository and whether or not you think it's a wise idea for us to move ahead as the
appropriations language says with identifying one or more pilot consolidation sites? although in the end, if any site were chosen it would have to be approved by an act of congress. >> that's an excellent question. i think that we found that the benefits of developing consolidated storage are so large in terms of taxpayer liability, of being able to collect material and to a smaller number of locations and return unused sites to more productive uses. and to gain experience with transportation at smaller scale so that we can build that capability that it makes sense to move forward with consolidated storage in parallel with not after the development of a geological repository. this does take amendment to the nuclear west policy act and it's one of several areas where we made recommendations.
you also mentioned the importance of incentives and we reviewed the current structure of incentives and nuke waste policy act and found they probably would not work as well as they should. and so the report provides recommendations for ways to improve the incentive basis for -- >> did i state it correctly? your recommend dagss in support for the idea of moving ahead with identifying consolidation sites does not decide the question of yucca mountain one way or the other. whether we're for yucca mountain -- im accurate to say whether we're for it or against it, we still need to move ahead with consolidation sites and we still need to move ahead as soon as the legislation is passed to begin to identify a second repository? >> absolutely. clearly, the question of what needs to be done with yucca mountain is quite controversial. i think if our commission had been required to answer that question, we would have had a difficult time reaching a
consensus. but what we found is that the things that we recommended that we do move forward on, developing new repository, developing consolidated storage, creating a new entity, these are things we need to do as the commission said regardless of whether we were to retain, discard, place into deep freeze or whatever ends up being what happens to yucca. these are other things that really are important for us to move forward on as promptly as we can. >> mr. chairman, may i ask one more quick question? >> let us discuss this. no, go ahead. >> thank you, mr. chairman, for -- did you weigh -- you know, sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. and the simplest solution for used nuclear fuel is to leave it where it is. i mean, you've got security.
you've got -- you don't have to transport it, which is hard to do and sometimes risky. and so a consolidation site takes time. takes a lot of money. requires transportation which could be risky. so did you weigh those two things, and still come down on the side of the need for consolidation sites? >> yes, we certainly did. we looked at -- we looked at all -- all the different possibilities. and we concluded that even though it means more sites you have to locate and so on, that on balance it was well worth it. and the transportation is certainly a problem. it has worked well regarding the whip thing and we think that with certain precautions which we suggest in our recommendations to have the state and local authorities
aware of possible crises that transportation is not that big a problem. >> thanks, mr. chairman, senator brasso, for your courtesy. >> you're welcome. great questions. senator barasso. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. to both of you in the testimony we discussed examples of where consent-based approach has worked. and you visited about the disposal facilities, citing for new mexico. are there positive outcomes, spain, finland, sweden? could you tell me about what the key common elements are that made those projects successful? >> well, i would say the key common elements are that the prospects were made to look positive in the eyes of the local communities. and they were an asset to the communities. and as i say, that's why there
has actually been in some cases active bidding to hold -- to hold the site. so i think that's the key to it. to make it not a penalty that's being forced on you but an opportunity for the community. and that will differ for different communities, what they find attractive. but it seems to be working very well in all the other countries that we visit. as i say, none of them have the particular complications we do in our federal system. but given that, we're optimistic. >> talking about some of the particular complications in the federal system. and the written testimony you'd mentioned in terms of the epa, working with the nuclear regulatory commission. they should begin working together to determine an appropriate process for a
generic disposal -- was there a similar process when -- in terms of developing that safety standard, what came yucca mountain? was that there and -- because it seemed that the process took a long, long time, and your thoughts there. >> for yucca mountain, the -- there were difficulties in demonstrating compliance with the existing safety standards so congress did direct the national academies to study the question and issue a report upon which a new safety standard could be issued. and this occurred before the site had been selected. so in my professional judgment, i think that the standard that was developed is reasonably protective, but to do this after you've picked a site and then to change the safety standard that it's required to meet through
legislation, i think does damage confidence in the entire process. and this is one of the reasons why considerable amount of activity can start immediately in terms of facilitating the ability of local communities to study and to understand what the implications would give hosting facilities. but before site selection occurs it really would be best to have a clearly defined and clearly site independent safety standard available that the sites would be required to meet. >> when i think about yucca mountain because we need affordable domestic energy, and we need it now. and i believe yucca mountain could be a key bridge to allowing nuclear energy to be a very viable part of america's energy mix. so when i look at this, you talk about providing incentives for communities to accept nuclear waste. under your plan, would nevada qualify for incentives, and is
there any way now to incentivize the communities in nevada to move forward with yucca mountain? >> we see no reason that yucca mountain could not go forward if it meets the criteria. so we do not rule out yucca mountain at all, no. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> i would just say the -- for years when i see a yucca mountain referred to in the press or by theed me yark it's always characterized as a nuclear waste dump. always. characterized that way. and whether -- in my state, my guess is the same is true in wyoming or tennessee or new mexico or any other state. nobody wants to have a dump in their neighborhood or in their community.